In the Studio with Urban Wood Craftsman Nick Hardrath

Meet this modern carpenter.

Freshly milled slabs, each sourced from locally grown urban trees, line the perimeter of the Riverwest studio of woodworker/designer Nick Hardrath, waiting to be transformed into bespoke furniture. A cabinet of small home goods, from customizable charcuterie boards to bottle openers and coaster sets, showcases the breadth of his work. 

On this day, Hardrath and his employee pore over the design of an expansive dining table with their client, Yaakov Cohen of Glendale. “My friend gifted me a bunch of huge slabs [of wood],” explains Cohen. “We have lots of family meals, so I wanted a centerpiece – a dining room table.” The end result, says Hardrath, will be a 5-foot-wide by 11-foot-long table crafted from a pair of sequentially cut, urban walnut slabs.

Photo by courtesy of Nick Hardrath

A Wisconsin native, Hardrath spent his childhood building and remodeling homes alongside his father, who owns a general contracting business. Hardrath majored in industrial design at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and then worked in product design and development for nearly 10 years before turning his side hustle – that of furniture and small gift making – into a full-time gig. “Eventually, my wife said, ‘You need to get out of our garage and go find your own shop,’” he recalls with a laugh. “So three years ago, I made the plunge to go full time with it.”


 

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Today, The Urban Craftsman provides custom woodworking services to businesses and residents throughout Milwaukee. Hardrath’s work, which ranges from picnic and dining tables to barn doors and butcher block island tops, is impressively diverse in scope, and no two pieces are identical. His studio is also open to the public, Monday through Friday, so customers can collaborate with Hardrath firsthand.

Photo by courtesy of Nick Hardrath

Hardrath’s residential clients typically come to him with a particular piece or project in mind. “But on the commercial side of things, [like for] bars and restaurants, a lot of my customers will say, ‘We’ve got this much money. This is the space. Go to town.’” The results of this type of creative freedom can be seen at Central Standard’s new Downtown Crafthouse & Kitchen, where Hardrath created a 20-foot-long tasting table from a tree that once stood at the historic Pabst Mansion. “It was the only tree [left] on the property,” he adds.

Repurposing an existing commodity is integral to Hardrath’s process. “Typically, all of these trees would have been either mulched up or buried in a landfill, which [requires] a tremendous amount of resources,” he says. “Saving these [trees] is actually … doing a lot of good for the environment.” His hope is to encourage locals to save a tree, should it need to be cut down, and use its wood to create a bespoke, deeply personal item. “That’s the full circle scenario we’re pushing more toward – utilizing a commodity you have a connection to.”


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s October issue.

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